Fathers and Brethren
On an occasion such as this it is expected that I address our denomination on matters pertaining to our role as a branch of the church over which the Lord Jesus Christ is King and Head.
Now while we must first and foremost look to ourselves, we cannot but consider the wider implications of our influence or otherwise as a witness for our Lord, mainly in our beloved Scotland, but of course not confined to these shores.
Indeed we need to give consideration to the question, ‘do we have an influence, do we make a difference, outside of our own denomination?
The Church of Christ is universal, and when we consider the Church’s humble and seemingly insignificant beginnings (at least to the world at large) that itself surely should encourage us. The spread of the Gospel, the influence on society of those living the Christian life did not happen automatically. We only need to have a cursory look at the Epistles to see that even the early N.T. Church, which you would have expected to be the most pure had its difficulties, and yet the Gospel work continued and prospered when it was faithfully proclaimed.
What hope is then for us as a small seemingly insignificant denomination seeking to live out the Christian life in a secular godless society? If I can with reverence adapt the words of Rom 3:1 when the Apostle asks “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” What advantage do we have as a daughter of the Reformation? Friends, I would suggest, “much every way” We have had committed to us by our forefathers, at the cost of their blood very often, the word of God, the doctrines of grace.
. What then are we doing with such a glorious inheritance? I would like us to consider
What is ‘the Church here on earth – the “visible church”? We know that it is seen in its broader sense as an assembly of people as we have it defined on numerous occasions in the book of Acts. In the strictest sense it is a gathering of believers. Such is called in Eph. 1:23 as ‘Christ’s body’ – in Eph. 2:21 as a ‘building’ in the book of Revelation as the “bride” of Christ and in Heb. 12:23 as “general assembly and church of the first born”
Our Confession (25:2) speaks of the church as, consisting of ‘all those throughout the world that profess the
true religion, together with their children ..’
It is then a church instituted by Christ against which we are promised, “the gates of hell shall not prevail” “Mat 16:18 So we can be comforted in the midst of every difficulty remembering that it owes its existence and continuance, wherever a branch of it is found, to the power of God.
Being such, it must therefore, be regulated by the Word of God, and that includes the day to day life of all who worship, and that Word used for the reproof, correction and encouragement of such. So existing in a world that largely rejects our message, and they continuing to do that which is right in their own eyes, we have to accept that that is where we are at this time.
What is to be our reaction as a church to what transpires around us at this time? Our relationship as a church and individuals to the law of the land?
We all know of the Establishment Principle. We believe it is the duty of the State to recognise Christianity as the national religion, and that it should do all in its power to uphold the Christian faith. (WCOF 23)
But what happens when, as it becomes more and more obvious that the State’s agenda is a deliberate and wilful ignoring of God’s law, and indeed it is actively engaged in persecution of those who would seek to live by it?
Well of course we believe as our Lord commanded, in ‘rendering to Caesar that which is Caesars, but NOT ‘the things which are God’s.
The State has no right to impose on the Church anything that is contrary to God’s word. We are in conflict, indeed not too strong a point to say, we are in a war situation – between the State and the
TRUE CHURCH of Christ. I say True Church.
And that leads us to ask, what is a true church? Sadly, because of the spiritual decline of our nation we have come to the place where we are no longer surprised or astonished in any way with the godless statutes that keep appearing in our parliaments, whether in Edinburgh or Westminster. However, what is astonishing and alarming is the godless statutes alleged as being compatible with the holy teaching of scripture, being continually promoted by some denominations, professing to be true churches,
I don’t need to spell out to you in any great detail, Fathers and Brethren, some of the abominations that are now being accepted as the norm in many so called Churches throughout the land. But let me just briefly comment on a couple of obvious and presently pertinent situations.
We have so called ‘gay lifestyle’ and so called ‘gay marriage’ seen as the norm; and not only that, but persecution of any who do not accept it and who speak out against it as being against God’s law. Well you sadly might expect that of a secular humanistic government, but friends, we are not even talking about the governments of the day implementing this, which is itself obnoxious – we are talking of the so called Church of Christ doing so! It’s stomach churning enough to have observed years of turning a blind eye to this perversion in some churches but we now have it openly and vigorously promoted.
And in our National Church here in Scotland, not just accepting it in the pew, but elevating some who practice such an abnormal lifestyle to be over the word of God in pulpits throughout the land. I ask you, can such any longer be called a TRUE CHURCH OF CHRIST?
Some say, ‘well there are still some good men and women in such denominations. They are staying in to try and return to the old Biblical ways’. We had much sympathy with those who initially did so, but the time has now come for the true believers to “come out from among them and be ye separate” (2Cor 6:17) When the law of the land is placed above the law of the Lord by any professing to be a true Church, we have the right to question and challenge such as to whether they have the right to be seen as part of the body of Christ.
Another common unbiblical teaching in some ‘churches’. . We have the situation, and sadly have had for many years, where a person
does not need to believe in the physical resurrection of our Lord, nor the necessity of a blood sacrifice, and yet not only be a member, but claim to be called of God be a preacher of the Word. How can they consider such as an organisation a true Church of Christ? These are fundamental doctrines which were at the heart of the Reformation, and yet some ‘so-called’ daughter churches of the Reformation deny such cardinal truths. Fathers and Brethren, I am not talking about the apostasy of Romanism; these are the teachings of many churches throughout the United Kingdom..
While we may be saddened that few of those who left the Scottish National Church, have seen fit to join with us as a denomination, we nevertheless are thankful that some still respect God’s word above godless atheistic and wicked claims, and have left and ‘escaped for their lives .. lest they be consumed’
I have no doubt that the malaise and rot gathered pace in such institutions the day many years ago, they allowed something else into their Churches which was contrary to the teaching of Scripture. Appointing women to office against the clear teaching of God’s word. There is an instance of where the rot accelerated and its corruption spread and men kept silent to keep the peace. Friends God is not mocked.
So as a denomination we need to emphasise to our own people and to the law makers of our land that we will not compromise on the Word. To say and keep saying, “thus saith the Lord” and practice what we preach. Brethren, be aware, we will need to take a stand as a Church and as individuals which may be very costly, but let us in such instances follow Peters example and say “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)
Before some accuse me of not seeing the plank in my own eye, are we to see ourselves beyond any such innovations or unscriptural behaviour? God forbid. Fathers and Brethren, we are far from perfect. Indeed we are far from being a good church even. It is easy to cast stones at others without considering our own failings. We can learn much, take and emulate some of the good things that we see going on in other denominations which we may be separate from,but who nevertheless give good example especially in reaching out with the Gospel in a practical manner to the many lost hell-bound souls in all our communities. I fear we are too often ‘bound’ by traditions and fail to respond in a biblical manner to certain situations. We should never be too proud to learn and accept we fail far too often because of unscriptural intransigence and often have an unhelpful ‘holier than thou’ attitude and are not taking cognizance of the day we live in. We do need as a Church of the Reformation to continue reforming and be aware of the Spiritual danger of being stuck in a time-warp unwilling to change anything as if that equals true godliness!
However as far as we are enabled and by the grace of God, we need to stand together in the fundamentals of the truth, firm in our belief that while others may see us as a small insignificant denomination, what matters above all else is our being faithful to the word of God. While we should rejoice in any numerical growth of Christ’s true Church, we nevertheless must realise that being small and faithful is far more honouring to God than seeking to add numbers for the sake of it. We must not be taken in with ‘every wind of doctrine’ but at whatever cost to ourselves seek to make a biblical difference, as a Church, in the sinful society we live in. To be, in the best sense ‘a little leaven’
We need to let our ‘light shine before men’ even when that light seems dim. Better a dim light than none at all. Whatever God has for us in the future in this world let it not be said that we as a denomination were blind to the needs of the day nor that we in any way compromised with the world.
1. Members of our Church. 7.
As a Church, can we say our Members are living out their Christian lives in society as they should? I don’t think so. The Church is made up of individual parts – We, if we are the Lord’s, are the Church. The Church is a living entity. Christ is the Head – we the body (1Col 1:8) But are we living our Christian lives as those who are instructed and guided by the Head?
The Church usually grows through families – Covenant is important to us – and as family we should care and look out for each other and live by the rules of the Head of the Family.
Let us think about family life. We are to train up our children (not just the believers amongst them) in the way they should go (Prov 22:6) Are you and I as Members of the body doing so? Not just sending our children to Sabbath School and hoping they will come to know the Lord through what they hear, but what about the example at home and what they portray in their schools, or places of employment? Do we not far too easily give in to the worldly demands not to be different from their school friends and acquaintances and so allow them to go places you would not yourself go to?
I know it can be very difficult, but take e.g. how some dress. It is shocking the way some young folk coming out of Christian homes dress. A brother Minister told me recently that he heard someone say, “If you can see up it, or see down it, or see through it, don’t let them wear it” Good guidelines! Ask yourself, ‘Is Godly discipline being exercised in my home or have I compromised with the world for the sake of peace?
Of course Members, of whatever age or gender should be different from the world, and seen to be different from the world in every area of life, but surely also all our covenant children whether as yet believers or not should all be seen as being different. Now of course as part of the Church, some of us who are older also need to look at our own personal living. Is our behaviour before the world what it ought to be? Are our priorities right as regards our time even in lawful duties and the matters of our never dying souls? Is our Christianity just about attending services twice on the Lord’s Day and once during the week?
We may as individual believers not like what we see some other Christians from other denominations get involved with, (with good reason very often,) but is it because it is unbiblical, or because it would mean an unwillingness to go the extra mile ourselves? There are so many areas of service available, especially among the needy, outcasts of society and even in involvement in Gospel Outreach. I know some goes on, some fine people do get involved, but it shouldn’t be optional or left to a certain few. After all every Christian is called to follow the Lord, which also means to serve. If we really desire it, we will find an area of service whatever our gifts, or perceived lack of them.
We may learn much theology, be able to cross every ‘t’ and dot every theological ‘i’ but are we practical believers living out our lives so others will take note that we have been with Jesus and living our lives following His teaching? There is a great need to be more practical Christians, not just saying to ourselves, ‘they know I’m a Christian’ but be actively engaged in living out our Lord’s word in every place our lot has
been cast.. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Jam 1:27
The walls of Jerusalem were built, not just by Nehemiah and Ezra but all the people were engaged in that work, men and women. Should it be any less in the spiritual realm? Too often some seem to put their hand to the plough but forget they are not to look back.
One other point: Don’t make “well I pray for them” an excuse for an unwillingness to be practical. Of course we must pray but I fear it sadly even prayer can be an easy option far too often.
Finally, under this heading, regarding the understanding of Members as to why we exist as the Free Church continuing. As time goes on, and we see this already with many of our younger folk, the reason for our existence as the FCC is not so clear to them as most may not have been in any way involved in the difficulties that surrounded our separation. Yet there is a need for them to know why we exist as a separate branch of the church. However it may be better now to lay more emphasis on our doctrinal differences, especially the importance of the Regulative Principle of Worship and the Headship of Christ over all aspects of our lives.
Without question the first and most important role of the Minister is to preach the Word.
That must ever be the focus of his calling. His task is to preach the whole counsel of God, to teach those who have come to faith and to plead with all our hearts with those who have not, to do so before it is too late.
In doing so the deep things of God must be examined and expounded upon. The believer is not to be content forever with milk when healthy strong meat is available to them, and likewise the Preacher of the Gospel is not to be forever content feeding his flock ‘baby food’ But part of pastoring a congregation will mean that we know our flock and will know who needs ‘meat’ and who may choke on such fare. The diet must be varied and suitable for those entrusted to us, but their particular needs can only be known by us if we, with a real love for them, are often amongst them. Someone said of a past ministry ‘while we were well instructed we were poorly nourished. There is a great difference between the two – we can address the mind with little concern to see conscience, heart, affections reached.’ Brethren in the Ministry, is this not an area we need to address? I was once told by a Minister that he felt he was only called to be just a ‘feeder of mature sheep’ and not to call the unsaved to repentance. My reaction was “where do you find that kind of Ministry in Scripture?” although I being a young Minister at the time said nothing. I probably, as you can imagine, don’t tend to be so silent nowadays!
The responsibility falls on our shoulders as those who profess to be called of God to lead and feed the people. The souls of our people should be precious to us and lovingly cared for.
What about then the Offer of the Gospel in our preaching? Does having an emphasis on teaching or preaching the glorious truth of God’s Sovereignty mean we relegate what we know as “Evangelistic Preaching” to a second place? God forbid!
Is the role of the Minister to focus only on one or the other? Certainly not! The mix is necessary.
We all have favourite methods- whether textual, expository or topical. There is a danger of trying to emulate some of the great gifted preachers of the past who specialised in one method or other – and we can and should learn from such – but we always need to be aware of the makeup of our congregation and preach to them
accordingly. Sinclair Ferguson stated it well when he wrote, ‘It is possible to assume because we are preaching in a systematic way through the books of the Bible that we are therefore preaching Christ and him crucified. It ought to be the case, but is not necessarily so.’ What may well suit your neighbouring congregation may not at all be suitable for your people.
No one should be in the Ministry who is not willing or able to teach sound doctrine and to offer Christ freely to needy sinners. I fear that there is a danger with ourselves of becoming lecturers in our pulpits, and forgetting we are to be first and foremost Gospel Preachers, which does not of course mean no theological teaching in presenting the Gospel. But Brethren, let us preach with passion – let our people see we desire their salvation. How can we convince others except they detect a longing in our souls for their redemption? O yes, it is the Spirit that quickeneth, but it is your duty and mine, as Ministers of the Gospel, to beseech sinners to come to Christ.
The question may be asked, What is more important, preaching to build up the theological knowledge of our hearers, or seeking the conversion of the lost souls of adherents? Some may say that such is not mutually exclusive – and brethren I agree, - but we need to be aware of the balance.
There is of course the great danger of preaching in such a manner that all imagine coming to faith is simply an outward step with no need or expectation of transformation of heart by the
Spirit. The plague of ‘easy believism’ is all around us and must be guarded against. Arminianism is to be shunned just as much as Hyper Calvinism. If our preaching is Biblical we will at times lay emphasis on God’s Sovereignty and Election, but we will also highlight the Free Offer of the Gospel and man’s responsibility. The gospel challenge has to be there – Invitation of the Gospel must be given – as well as man’s inability to save himself. As one excellent preacher commented, ‘It is one thing to hold Christ up to the people, it’s another to hold him out’ Brethren in our preaching He must be held out. Freely offered in the Gospel.
We are thankful to the Lord that over the years we have gifted men in our Seminary who have taught our students such, and we must ensure it remains that way. We all know that down through the history of the Church in Scotland the rot, as far as false theological thought was concerned, began in the universities and theological colleges.
So our preaching and seminary teaching must be balanced, and therefore we must especially continue to ensure that our Seminary is staffed by those who themselves are balanced in their theological views, and not skewed in one direction or the other.
b.) Pastoral work.
I don’t believe there has ever been a time, certainly as far as recent history is concerned, when there has been such a need of pastoral care in our congregations.
As Ministers we need to be amongst our people. We are called to be under-shepherds, and that surely means surrounding our people with love, care and protection - with concern for their souls firstly, but not forgetting there temporal needs as well.
Our people, as Christians, are bombarded with what is devilish and godless propaganda everywhere they turn. Sadly many fall into acceptance of worldliness far too easily. Are we failing our people by our own lack of zeal, and our tacit acceptance of such? Is this happening because, ‘O we can’t remember the last time the
minister (or an elder for that matter) visited us.’ When you do visit, my brother Minister and Elder, do you address their spiritual state, enquire as to how matters are between themselves and the Lord, or do you just drift in and out of their homes and satisfy your conscience with having completed a visit? One more ticked of the list!
I am sure Fathers and Brethren, we can all be guilty of this, but just because we all may do it, that does not make it acceptable as under-shepherds of God’s flock.
How often also our people see other churches being easy going about matters that we see as fundamental – and what happens? Very often the lowest common denominator is what prevails, so a ‘sloppiness’ comes over their Christian lives and their zeal diminishes. Brethren, as Pastors let us not be found guilty of ignoring and not addressing such matters.
What about our care of our Adherents? Some struggling with the exclusive ‘separating’ claims of the Gospel on the one hand, and the false claims that such a need for separation from the world is not necessary; and with the ‘so called’ easy ‘don’t worry about tomorrow’ attitude of the majority. ‘Christianity is not the only religion – and even if it is, worry about that some other time’ How do you counteract such views in a way that you are not just condemning but winning them away from such thinking? Surely we need to plead with them, exhort them, teach them and by example make known the truth; we cannot do that just from the pulpit. We need to be amongst our people.
Brethren, how can we know their problems if we never see them except in church? How can we even preach on certain relevant issues if we are not informing ourselves of what goes on in their personal lives and families? It’s easy to hide behind the door of the study and give the impression of being so holy we have no time to do other than prepare our sermons. Our Master took upon him the form of a servant (Phil 2:7) are we ‘above our master’? (Luke 6:40) Surely not!
One final point; As Ministers of the Gospel we have to put Christ and the people we are shepherding above all else. Yes even our family life. Does that mean we ignore the families our Lord has given us? Of course not, but we are not to make our families an excuse for not being able to fulfil our calling. As Ministers, we are the most privileged of men. Let us then fulfil our calling in all aspects of it, and not be other than ‘faithful servants’.
As Ministers. – Let us who are called be true examples of Godliness, and show real heart felt care for our people. Let us love them as we ought, seek the growth in grace of the Christians and plead for the souls of those in our congregations who are as yet still lost.
As Members. –Let us show our distinctiveness from anything and anyone, or any organisation that promotes anything other than the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. Let us also not forget that our first duty is to our Lord and our responsibility to live as lights in the dark world around us. We cannot do that if we dabble in the ways of the world.
As a Church. – Just because we are small and unnoticed by the vast majority of the world, and even seen as insignificant and irrelevant by other larger Churches, we must remain faithful to the Word and not compromise. Let us expect persecution and being ostracised. But so what! If our Master had this, why should we who follow Him expect anything else?
However let us not be unwilling to examine and question why we do what we do, and not be afraid to ask, what more can we do for the Lord? What do we pray we will hear on the Great Day that awaits? “Well done thou good and FAITHFUL servant ..” (Mat 25:21)
Fathers and Brethren, we have a glorious heritage and inheritance; let us ensure we pass it on to those coming after us untainted by the world or by our own spiritual shortcomings.